Lessons Learned At Design Camp

What happens when you put 300 Minneapolis designers in a resort for a weekend and call it camping? Well, a party of course.

Madden’s Resort on Gull Lake was home to the 17th annual AIGA Design Camp where creatives came together to hear from the best in the biz and meet other innovative weirdo designers like themselves. It was a weekend of passing business cards, badass keynote speakers and a bad karaoke attempt at “Baby Got Back”.

135 miles, 2 bottles of whiskey, and one sprinkler-attacked bonfire later, these are the lessons we learned at AIGA Design Camp 2016:

Think through the design of everything.

Anton and Irene, a visual and UX designer duo, won a project that they didn’t even realized they were pitching for by being conscious of the design of their proposal deck. Making everything polished from start to finish will put you on top.

Organize your plan from the start.

It seems like an obvious thought, but being thorough in the organization of your project and process means no surprises, from or for the client. Anton and Irene use a Google Sheet to think through every single feature that will go into a website build, and then rank them in priority from their perspective, from a client perspective, and level of difficulty.

Listen to what your client wants.

From Anton and Irene’s experience, “If you keep fighting your client, they are just going to change up your work after you’ve handed it off.” Irene continued to explain how this kind of relationship with your client turns into one that feels like an ex-husband.


Make every project your best project, no matter what the process is.

Allan Peters spoke about working under a realm of creative directors and agencies who have a differing creative process than you’re used to. Being willing and able to adapt to a different process will yield the highest outcome of work.

Get scrappy.

Its easy to assume that you could be working under better conditions. A bigger studio, better lighting, more props, more people, MORE MONEY. But the truth is that if you are willing to get scrappy and piece together the puzzle of the idea, you can get it done. Leta Sobierajski started her career after leaving a comfortable agency job and realizing her portfolio of work is not what she wanted to show the world, nor was it the type of work she wanted to make. She started from scratch by shooting in her 100 square foot studio apartment, which meant using herself as the model and becoming best friends with “self timer mode” on her camera.

Design blogs are the equivalent of porn.

As designers, we can’t be passive in the thinking and making process. Leta explained how getting sucked into the world of blogs that highlight projects and designers is much like watching porn. You are looking to satisfy a need, but you are being passive in the act. It gives you pleasure, but it is not mentally or physically stimulating to read about other designers. We have to be active in our pursuit of creative exploration, and then maybe that same design blog will pick up one of our own projects.

 Always ask.

From Irene’s mother’s book of knowledge, she says there is no harm in asking for what you want. “You already have a no, but you might get a yes.”


We all need to be T designers.

Today, it seems that no one designer is trained in a specific area anymore. Yes, we have our niche, but the idea of a T designer is to be greatly and deeply knowledgeable in one area, but also have surface level skills for many things. An example of this is Kay Rossbach, an animator at FRWD. Her training and focus is in animation and illustration, but she also understands basic coding with helps our developer, and she also is keen on proper grammar which gives our writer proofreading support. Being able to have these top level skills are crucial to being an intertwined creative team.

Be proactive on good ideas, even if the client hasn’t asked for it.

A good idea is a good idea. Alex Center, Design Director at Coca Cola, experienced this when he decided to update the Powerade logo based on his own style and thoughts. The idea was bought immediately (which also meant purchasing the typeface he used from dafont.com).

It’s okay to know absolutely nothing about the thing you want to try.

Anton didn’t know anything about making watches, but he mocked one up and it is now produced (only one in the world, but still, it’s real).


Design means solving problems.

There is a difference between design and decoration. Design is solving a problem, while decoration is just making pretty shit. There is a place for both in the world; but it is not all considered design.

And lastly, the most important thing I learned at design camp: everyone fails.

Our failures are what make successes so sweet. Design is about breaking barriers, problem solving, and discovering new ways of thinking. If we are not failing or receiving critique on our work, we’re not pushing ourselves far enough. In Irene’s words, “We have to learn from our failures and learn to enjoy our successes. All of them”.


Oh, that, and don’t commit to singing Baby Got Back unless you’re positive you know all the words. (and preferably haven’t had so many Whiskey Lemonades).

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